While strolling across the paddy fields, out of curiosity I’d asked my father ( a farmer from Coorg) of how they controlled the pests before the pesticides even existed? His answer was a simple one. But the depth of it made me write this article.
The introduction of high yielding varieties ( HYV) of seeds and the increased use of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation facilities are collectively known as the Green revolution. ‘ The definition seems oddly familiar since we as kids were asked to by heart it for a 1 mark question. Followed by the ‘benefits of the Green revolution‘ for a 5 mark question.
Ever wondered of why wasn’t there a ‘ disadvantages of the Green revolution’ question?
The Green revolution was implemented with the core motive to feed the growing Indian population and to make the developing country self-efficient. The aftermath of the British rule was chaotic indeed, considering their brutal economic exploitation, which had earlier lead to horrific famines in the country. And the Green revolution was the ‘ knight in shining armor’ for the hungry ‘ Damsel in distress’ Indians.
Now that India has jumped from its status of ‘ the begging bowl’ towards being in the 72nd position out of the 113 major countries, in terms of the food security index, it is about time that we start worrying about the consequences of the Green revolution, sooner or later.
To improve the crop produce at that time fertilizers, pesticides, and HYVs were used ruthlessly. And the condition today is no different. The Green revolution was no doubt a one-way ticket to escape from the starvation, the country was heading towards at high speed. But no one said that the use of the traditional method was incapable of a good yield. The only difference between them both is that the modern ways of farming are doing more harm than benefits, in a long run.
Disadvantages of the Green revolution
Now, we all know that the use of the pesticides is harmful to the nature. But why is there a no stop to it?
It has contaminated the soil, the groundwater, completely wiped out several species of organisms, is a major threat to the biodiversity and the aquatic life, causes biomagnification and the list goes on. But wait… We Homo sapiens are least concerned about our environment unless our own species is threatened. That is why the below information might grab your attention.
According to WHO, each year there are about 3,000,000 cases of pesticide poisoning, and 2,20,000 deaths are reported in developing countries and 2.2 M people are at risk of exposure to pesticides.
The number of zeroes is really disturbing, isn’t it?
An alternative? Of course, there is. The one which already existed and was removed from its roots because it was ‘ traditional and unyielding’.
” Back in our days, we…” And the story goes on.
When asked about the time before the pesticides were even introduced, my father explained that they never needed any sorts of pesticides in the first place. The crop varieties which they had at that time were pest resistant. The yield was also good when incorporated with cow dung manure. But sadly, the varieties were lost during the ’90s. ( A/N: Guess who the culprit was?) Also that now they use the varieties the government provides, which particularly needs a lot of pesticides.
This hiked my interest and I continued pestering him with more questions.
How were the fertilizers different from the ones we use today?
He answered, ” The varieties we use today as I said, need a lot of inputs. And fertilizer is a major one. Both organic and inorganic give the same results but at different phases. On applying the inorganic fertilizer the result is seen in mere days. But it takes a while for the organic ones to kick in.
With the inorganic ones, the amount to be applied is fairly specific. On applying more fertilizer, the crop tends to be more susceptible to Rice Blast diseases. If the nitrogenous content increases, the tip of the rice plant tillers tend to turn pale orangish-yellow, which in turn reduces the yield. There are no restrictions on the amount of cow dung we incorporate into the fields. The yield remains intact.”
How did you handle the pests and insects back then?
My father patiently took me to a neighboring field, which had a major pest infestation. He pointed at a white moth, ( Which on later enquiring with my professors, I got to know was a Caseworm) and explained, ” This insect goes to the paddy tillers and lays its eggs on the leaf blade. On hatching, the larvae feed on the leaf and build a cylindrical tube-like structure inside which it lives. The Caseworm remains dormant during the day and comes out during the night to vigorously feed on the leaves, which eventually decreases the yield. Spraying pesticides during the day are useless as the insect is safe inside its cocoon. “
He took me to a tree, Ficus exasperata, commonly known as the Sandpaper tree, with very rough leaves. The secretions from the tree cause skin irritation. He explained that back in the days, they used to take a branch from this tree and brush it along the paddy fields. When the worm tube comes in contact with the rough surface of the leaf, it detaches itself from the leaf blade. And the worm falls to the stagnant water and dies or is eaten by birds like the Common Myna. On draining the paddy fields, the ants climb the plants and feed on the insects.
a) Ants feeding on insects after the water is drained from the fields b) The rough leaves of the Sandpaper tree
Rabbits are pests too. Yep… Even I disagreed at first. I argued with my father that they are too cute to be pests but my father said otherwise. A couple of days back, on our daily visit to the field, we found footprints of a rabbit that had visited our field earlier. On further exploration, we found that Mr. Bunny had completely devoured a paddy plant and left a generous amount of bunny poop behind. ( Which I later tossed into the field).
I found it very amusing that the bunny dined on our crop and had left a generous amount of tip as fertilizer.
Then how did they prevent Mr. Bunny from devouring the crop?
A stand was made with two vertical poles and a horizontal pole across the two. This stand was a landing place for nocturnal predators like owls to sit on. This made it easy to hunt for preys. So whenever Mr. Bunny hopped by, Mr. owl made sure that he was taken care of.
Add the moral of the story is that...
If you observe carefully, you’ll find that there were no organisms harmed, no soil or groundwater polluted, no biomagnification and no harm similar to the ill effects of chemicals was caused whatsoever. The field is an ecosystem where not only the crop but many other species of organisms co-exist. They are inter connected in a chain of symbiotic relationships, which maintains a balance in nature. The practices used were in favor of the farmer, ants, birds, rabbits as well as the owls.
The pesticides that we use work on a broad-scale mechanism and harm anything that comes in contact with it. I’ve heard my elders tell that there were even fishes swimming within the paddy field waters back then. But the increased use of chemicals made sure that it never happened again. The only advantage that the pesticide has is that the wild boar to not attack the paddy fields. But we should not unsee the fact that the wild boar stays away from the crop because of its toxic smell.
The solution for the wild boar is simple. It eats the crop, we eat it. As simple as wild bacon and eggs.
There are and will be many articles about the ill-effects of chemicals. But there is no use if the article is only read and left aside. Our ancestors co-existed with the nature scientifically, even when there weren’t macbooks and Alexas.
History always repeats.
And this time we may not have an option other than to revert back and listen to the ‘ Nisargadhwani‘( nature’s voice)